Meet Mary van der Wiel
I met Van, as the dynamic marketer and artist prefers to be called, at a women’s art event here in San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, Mexico. She stood out in the gathering of splendid creatives present each sporting her own brilliantly executed aesthetic, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was her totally black outfit, bold black framed smoky eye glasses and black and white variegated hair. I knew I had to get to know her because we had made so many similar choices in life through paths followed and passions pursued; tamed or enflamed, depending on how you consider the outcomes.
About 15 months ago, Van moved into an abandoned Mexican 1960s house in one of the more artist-friendly neighborhoods called Guadalupe here in SMA. The skylight running the length of the house and the garden totally hooked her. Since then, she has completely transformed this house into a working studio with her keenly honed design idiom with a generous application of ideas and paint. She has created energetic black on white, or white on black, murals on many of the smooth adobe surfaces of this dwelling. The end result? A a space akin to that of a modern art gallery or a very lively child protege’s art room. Her art is both terribly smart and delightfully naive with its twists and turns. I find that it’s not representational but calls upon the viewer to feel its vigorous flow from the outside in. Can paintings made with just black paint on a white surface be called vivid? Somehow Van manages to make that possible.
In addition to this sharply conceived art, Van is also a recognized leader (featured in Inc. Magazine, Reuters, Entrepreneur, etc) in the brand intelligence space. She says, “If you want people to trust you, work with you or buy from you, it makes a big difference if you share a story that tells them who you are, why you do what you do and why it matters.” She mentions some inspirational resources below. There’s a deep authenticity to the messaging Van champions. If you’re up to some kind of project that could use some insightful boosts, check out the links Van shares below.
I met up with her at a tiny cafe not too far from her home run by an expat German lady who’s created a menu full of selections that feature her gluten-minimized whole grain breads. We sat down at one of the tiny tables in the cool dim of this homey eatery and I asked Van some questions.
What are you looking forward to?
“I’ll be back in NYC again in a few weeks. The energy there is what attracts me and, of course, I lived there for 22 years! I’ll be leading a Brand Lab workshop and working on Black Line Crazy.” She’ll also be exploring options with a few people who are helping her launch her Black Line Crazy collection –– paintings, art, fashion messenger bags and much more.
What will you be having for dinner tomorrow?
Van eats simple, fresh fare of the kind that is available in abundance where she now lives.
“I’ve gone Mexican lately! That means I tend to have a hot meal at lunch with a much lighter, simpler meal at night.” Van has a feeling that taking on this Mexican tradition gives her the kind of energy she needs to blast through her hectic daily commitments. Mexicans have known this for centuries eating their heaviest meal of the day around 2pm.
Where are you finding your personal joys these days?
“Love my work. Love my painting. It’s an exhilarating combo. What’s more, I get to wear two hats everyday –– 1) as branding consulting and 2) working on Black Line Crazy. I mix it all up!” Every 50 minutes or so, she takes a break from her laptop where she’s strategizing, brainstorming or copywriting for her US clients. She hops up from her seat and into the studio where she whips up a painting, a drawing or stages a BLC set. She’s one of those genius creatives who can instantly switch from intense left brain work immediately into the free flow of her right brain based art. I was personally floored when I heard her say this as when I make a similar switch it may take me a full half day to make the switch. Maybe this tells us something about how much Van’s two worlds are truly integrated. She’s also very clear about understanding WHY she does what she does and why it matters. I think she’s living that very purposefully.
How do you relax?
“One way I relax? I just go horizontal for 15 minutes. Eyes wide open sometimes. No, not napping! Just wondering and pondering what’s actually going on. Reminding myself to live in the moment.”
What’s your favorite outfit?
“Anything black. Red lips. Silver jewelry. That’s it.” I will add, her earrings tend towards the large and sometimes her pendants are big enough to use as a coaster for your drink, but every piece is always artsy, cutting edge or just plain cool. Here in Mexico, her favorite shoes are very practical flats or boots, in black of course, for walking around the cobblestone streets and crumbly sidewalks of San Miguel, but something else again when she’s got flatter surfaces. “My favorite shoe designer? Hester van Eeghen in Amsterdam. I love wearing her tall black boots with red polka dots. I hardly ever wear them here!” https://hestervaneeghen.com/women/shoes
Can you share a peak moment?
“The first time a gallery owner in Sydney invited me to have a show, my first show? I gasped!”
“It was two years ago. February 2015, in fact. A friend had introduced me to the owner of the Saint Cloche gallery in Paddington, Sydney. She’d seen my work and invited me to exhibit at her gallery August 11-September 1.”
At the time, Van was guest lecturing and tutoring at The University of Sydney’s Business School, leading her Brand Lab workshops as well as painting at her studio. She’d never thought for a moment a gallery might be interested in showing her work. The gallery owner was also keen to show a few ceramic pieces so Van invited her friend artist/ceramicist Jan Howlin to be part of the show. The exhibition became Black Line Boogie.
Van had six months to prepare so she rolled up her sleeves and went to work: 31 paintings later and one retro 60s chair covered with Black Line Crazy fabric. The gallery sold an unprecedented 87% of her work. Here’s a link to the video of the opening night. https://vimeo.com/136688611
What Inspires You?
Have you got a personal philosophy or words to live by?
“My family moved around a lot!” Her father, a Dutch sea captain who worked for Shell, and her Canadian mother, a naval nurse, moved to Maracaibo, Venezuela after they were married. When Van was 11, the family moved to Canada for several years, and then Holland and then Sydney, Australia –– all by the time she was 15. So she was always ‘the new kid’ and had to figure out how to maintain her own equanimity in the context of so many changes.
“So it’s no surprise I learned at an early age how to scope out the horizon and interpret the invisible clues – no matter what the country, culture or language. It seemed the best way to sense my place and identity in the world, and give it meaning.”
So the ability to sniff the landscape for clues, get your bearings and recognize who you are – so others can – represents a huge part of my life. Interestingly enough, it’s how I work in the brand intelligence space with clients.
What book, move, article or show have you seen recently that gave you something?
Recently I reread Sir Ken Robinson’s The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. A Brit now living in Los Angeles, he’s a recognized leader in the world of creativity, innovation and human potential. His writing style and wit? Inspiring and breathtaking. A must read. More info.
One of the books that changed my life? Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right- Brainers Will Rule the Future. Another must read. Check it out.
Have you got a favorite app?
Van loves Whitagram, Sangmook Lee’s fabulous image enhancing app. Check it out: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/whitagram/id523481129?mt=8
A day you’d like to erase?
The day my mother died. She had pancreatic cancer, and it happened quite suddenly. Everyone in the family knew except me. They had decided I was too young to understand. I was 13. So it was quite a shock.
What do you hope for?
I hope we could all share our story openly, communicate better and, in a much more transparent way. Where we could all be willing to trust each other more and have the courage to connect boldly and whole-heartedly. After all, we’re all just human. Imagine if we could do all that.
Van’s favorite question when she works with her branding clients:
What’s one thing about you that no one could possibly ever have guessed?
For four years, I was on The University of New South Wales’ women’s sailing team. Always stretched out with the’ trapeze’ around me, parallel to the water, racing an 18ft Sharpie and keeping it slicing through the water at top speed. I’d go through several pairs of gloves every season. Tough work!
Simon Sinek TED talk. – “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”
Sinek explores how leaders can inspire cooperation, trust and change. He’s the author of the classic “Start With Why.” His latest book is “Leaders Eat Last.”
People don’t buy what you do. They buy WHY you do it!
Find Your Why (Sept 2017 release)